SBJ/20081110/This Week's News

O’Neil to add 3 sales execs in effort to grow MSG Sports

After two months on the job, Madison Square Garden Sports President Scott O’Neil is putting his stamp on the organization with plans to hire three new top executives as O’Neil charts a course of aggressive growth to coincide with the renovation of the Garden.

O’Neil said he will hire two senior vice presidents and another vice president to help lead ticket and sponsorship sales across MSG Sports’ Knicks, Rangers and Liberty franchises. The new hires are additions to the staff and not replacements and are expected to be completed within a few weeks.

Currently, the New York Rangers have capped their season-ticket sales at 14,000, while the Knicks work to turn around their business after the past few disastrous seasons both on and off the court. O’Neil would not disclose the exact season-ticket base for the Knicks but said he expects to surpass 10,000 this season.

The Knicks’ renewal rate stands at about 85 percent, above the league’s 80 percent average.

In terms of corporate sales, MSG has 25 corporate partners who spend at least $1 million annually with both franchises, and one change under O’Neil has been to add value to some of MSG’s top spending partners. The Knicks are creating a “coach for a day program” for top sponsors who will tag along with Mike D’Antoni for a day. The team has set 10 dates for the program.

“D’Antoni couldn’t be more partner friendly,” O’Neil said.

While O’Neil beefs up MSG’s sales staff, he also is focusing on creating, acquiring or partnering with other sports-related properties. To date, MSG has looked at about 15 potential deals in and around New York, he said. “We are open for business and we have a mandate to grow the business,” he said.

O’Neil joined MSG Sports in mid-August and will help lead a $500 million renovation of the Garden, targeted for completion around the start of the 2011-12 NBA season. The renovation will more than double the size of the concourses around the facility to 100,000 square feet. It also will add new restaurants and a number of luxury suites and clubs, including one where the athletes would walk in and out of when entering or leaving the playing surface.

What is not yet certain is whether MSG will retain an agency to help sell what will be a raft of new inventory at the Garden. “We don’t know yet,” O’Neil said. “It’s too early and we are still in the planning phase.”

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